Almost as Busy as Santa
The season is painted red and green. The sounds are festive as silver bells sprinkle their glow along boulevards, and excitement fills the air. Shopping malls fill with noisy, teaming pushing crowds, credit cards in hand, sloppy, bulky packages bumping their way clumsily against posts and people.
Plastic dolls float amid plastic hay within replicas of ancient plastic feeding troughs. The smiling infant somehow fails to trigger any feeling whatsoever. Where’s the Christ child in all of this? Is he lost amidst obligatory giving? Has he disappeared under tinsel laden Christmas trees, hidden by brightly wrapped packages?
The Christ-child lives in the spirit of selfless giving, in the expenditure of thousands of hours of volunteer effort, in untold stories of commitment to those less fortunate. The tasks are often unnoticed, but never unappreciated. Often, they are motivated by Salvation Army officers.
It’s a busy, energy consuming time for this thin blue line charged with the responsibility to trigger the gift of love at Christmas. The 14-hour days begin early. Rest comes only with difficulty. Meals are usually shared. It’s often an organizational and logistical challenge. The phones ring constantly. The planning charts on the wall present demands. How to gather the resources needed–how to generate the volunteers required–how to shelter and organize the food and gifts–how to keep the spirit of the babe of Bethlehem uppermost in everything for everyone.
No easy job.
Captains Joe and Shawn Posillico keep Christ alive at Christmas in the hearts and minds of the people of Modesto, Calif. It’s a city of about 180,000 people located on the northern edge of California’s central valley. Poverty exists in Modesto. Unemployment is a staggering nine percent, the highest in the state. Joe says that nine percent is the lowest it’s been in 20 years. The corps and community center are located in the heart of downtown, and helping people in spiritual and social distress is its primary mission.
The people of Modesto like the Army. Its officers over the years have demonstrated the true genuineness of Christ-like love. Modesto citizens give generously. They volunteer extensively. They work with energy and commitment within the three key centers of service which make up the Army’s work in the community. They are the Modesto Citadel and social service center, at which the Posillicos work with 23 employees; the Modesto Red Shield’s 18 employees are led by Lts. Richard and Tammy Larson; and the Turlock Corps where Captains David and Diane Ebel work. Posillico coordinates the entire operation.
Like all Salvation Army, the work of the Army in Modesto is not just limited to Christmas. It’s year around. Five days a week homeless and low income individuals and families receive hot lunches, plus 3,000 boxes of food per month are distributed to seniors–some directly to the door of shut-ins. The warehouse processes over 2,000,000 pounds of food annually. Sally’s Place is a senior drop-in center where loneliness is barred in rituals of coffee and doughnuts as well as friendly fellowship and recreation. You’ll also find a free clinic there along with consulting services on health insurance.
But Christmas always adds its own special joy. With the magnificent help of dedicated staff and hundreds of volunteers, the Army will assemble 1,500 Christmas baskets in which recipients will find one week’s worth of food and toys for children. Christmas breakfasts, lunches and dinners abound throughout much of December right up to Christmas Eve. At the Red Shield, food combines with about 300 Christmas stockings laden with toys.
“We couldn’t do most of the stuff we do here without the help of the staff and volunteers,” Posillico says, The Advisory Board works tirelessly in coordinating volunteers. They also pitch right in with them in assembling Christmas boxes for families, off-loading food and serving large community dinners.
Posillico is soft spoken and determined. He says, somewhat matter-of-factly: “Christmas is not that much different from any other time of the year. If you’re doing your ministry, you’re doing your ministry. If we’re not doing Christmas, then we’re doing something else. Each day seems to be a confirmation of doing what God wants me to do. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be here.”
Shawn Posillico states that they have been busy all year long. “The year started with a giant flood. That elevated the demand considerably, and it actually hasn’t let up all that much.” She finds Christmas a very joyous time–“seeing the faces of children and adults when they receive gift packages–it’s an instant reward.” She notes that one can see that same joy in the faces of the volunteers who hand the packages across the tables. “I find that at Christmas I have many opportunities to talk about the spiritual meaning of the season,” she said. Late one evening, after about a 12-hour day she crammed a season’s worth of baking for family and friends into a narrow window of free time. She wrapped her last piece of fudge and washed her last cookie dish after midnight. “If I don’t get it done now, then it’s not going to get done,” she remarked
Both Posillicos noted that other responsibilities don’t stop just because it’s Christmas. “We still need to visit people in the hospitals, conduct funerals, preach sermons and work with the corps council. We’re also getting the capital campaign going and preparing the groundwork for our new welfare-to-work program. Shawn works with the Home League and conducts four Bible studies throughout each week. “Our hours are longer, but the flood got us used to it,” she said. “When you truly enjoy what you’re doing, and you know you’re helping people while giving a practical demonstration of God’s love, it doesn’t seem all that taxing.”
Monday was supposedly a “light day.”
“We really don’t have much on our schedule today,” Posillico said shortly after dawn while sipping a cup of coffee and checking the weather out the kitchen window. Then, even before his shoes were tied, his home phone rang. Someone had a question about an advisory board luncheon. He took the rest of his breakfast while standing.
After a stop at the post office for the mail, he heads toward the corps for a staff meeting. At Sally’s Place, he visits with some of the senior who have become regulars and shakes some hands and slaps some backs with a big grin and a friendly voice that seems to fit right in with the culture. The creative ministries director needs some clarification about the Christmas program, and every time he turns around he bumps into someone else where an impromptu meeting takes place and vital Christmas details are dealt with. At lunch, he visited some of the homeless who had made their way to the corps.
Posillico gets as many as 10 speaking requests from local service clubs during the season. Here, he communicates the needs of the community and explains how the Army attempts to meet those needs. He always comes away with manpower and money.
Shawn was on her way out to a television studio for an appearance on a local magazine show. She spoke about Christmas–about God’s love–and about budget stretching tips available in Army thrift stores.
On return to the corps, we asked Joe what he did while Shawn was taping. In his usual understated manner he replied: “I got 3,500 eggs, another 3,500 half-gallon cartons of milk, 100 pumpkin pies and about 8,000 pounds of potatoes donated for the Christmas baskets.” The recently arrived pallets and boxes revealed he wasn’t kidding.
After visiting the Red Shield, he stopped to visit a kettle in the local mall where he took a brief turn at bell ringing and then squeezed in a 10-minute shopping spree to buy a gift for Shawn. Then, back to the corps where he helped out with the junior choir rehearsal for the corps Christmas program.
The transport side of his job appeared after the rehearsal as he helped take some of the kids home while Shawn and some staff wrapped some donated Christmas presents for a Kiwanis event the next day.
They say: “Time flies when your having fun.” The Army Christmas effort seems to indicate it also speeds by when, with the spirit of the babe of Bethlehem filling your life, you’re sharing God’s love.